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THE MEWS’ UNIQUE FEATURES AND ORIGINS EXPLAINED

by Richard Pow on May 18, 2021
THE MEWS’ UNIQUE FEATURES AND ORIGINS EXPLAINED
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THE MEWS’ UNIQUE FEATURES AND ORIGINS EXPLAINED

Most people have an image in their minds of what a Mews is, but they may not be able to name the features which make it different from other properties. Mews properties are unique for many reasons: their history, location, purpose, occupants. Here we take a look at some of the special charactertistics of a Mews.

THE ORIGINAL WORK/LIVE SPACE

Originally, the purpose of building a Mews property was to create the equivalent of what we call today, a ‘live/work’ space. Historically, residential accommodation was built over an area used for trade or commerce. Essentially functional in design, they were constructed simply, on more of an equine scale than the houses they sat behind, as originally they were occupied by horses and carriages.

MAKEOVER OF THE MEWS

Over recent years, mews’ adaptable layouts and decent space has made them a prime target for owners and developers. Mews lend themselves to substantial alterations and being extended; consequently, they are now uniquely characterful as well as varied in design, style and use of space both inside and out with many having had charming roof terraces created.

Typical elevation/section showing relationship between Georgian main house and Mews behind
Unique Mews Features

GEORGIAN URBAN PLANNING GAVE RISE TO THE MEWS

Mews are a key element in the history and development of central London, they are important in terms of their location, layout and appearance. Although their history can be traced back to the sixteenth century, they came into general use in the Georgian and Victorian periods as part of a planned urban landscape, which separated primary, secondary and sometimes tertiary accommodation.

For example as a result of Georgian town planning, in Eaton Square the primary dwellings face the square, the secondary dwellings and shops face the side streets such as Elizabeth Street or Ecclestone Street and the tertiary accommodation is in the Mews, such as Boscobel Place, Ebury Mews and Eaton Mews, which are hidden behind arch/entrances approached from the side streets.

Atherstone Mews – Showing contrast between small scale painted mews buildings and larger buildings to rear
Atherstone Mews
Dove Mews – Unusual external balconies giving access to first floor residential accommodation designed to provide separation from the working Mews below
Dove Mews

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

A Mews contrasts noticeably with the buildings of the main square or streets; they were designed to be behind due to their style, scale, different details, materials used to build them and initially, at least, the sums of money lavished to finish them.

Mews properties now span a number of architectural styles and have an undeniable simplicity which showcases their many features. The key to a Mews’ authenticity remains its equine heritage.

This distinguishes a Mews from other buildings of similar age such as warehousing, which might also retain the original loading bays and hoists. Whereas old warehouse buildings are also functional and tended to be located in secondary or other side streets they should not be confused with Mews properties, as warehouses had no equine purpose and were consequently built to a different scale.

Belsize Court Garages – Wide timber coach doors with small glazed pane lights at the top, narrow timber entrance door to first floor accommodation; also just visible are the traditional collinge metal strap hinges to the coach doors and timber bressummer
Cross Key Close – Winch-bracket over first floor hayloft doors
Cross Key Close Winch bracket over first floor hayloft doors

MEWS MAKING A BIG IMPRESSION ON A SMALL SCALE

The principal feature of any authentic mews property is its small scale; the buildings are typically low rise and were often constructed below the level of the main houses they sit behind. They generally respect the width of the principal building to which they were associated, but were often constructed below their level, sometimes by as much as ten feet. Mews houses open directly onto the Mews and originally never contained basements.

A traditional mews house is a modest two storey building mainly in yellow stock brick, with small openings at first floor level, over larger openings at ground floor. They have flat fronts and strong parapet lines, giving the Mews a high degree of enclosure as well as a raised level of privacy.

Unusual features include external staircases, balconies at first floor level, winch brackets above haylofts, vents, lanterns, stand pipes and now rarely dung bins.

Some more familiar features of the Mews are illustrated below.
familiar features of the Mews

The roofs are traditionally slate covered with lead details. The facades remain simple and uniform in appearance, although a number have been significantly changed.

It is estimated that around 70% of the Mews contain Mews properties that have been painted or have been rendered recently. The ground floor openings originally featured timber carriage doors with long cast iron strap hinges; many, still do and offer highly coveted garages.

Around 10% of Mews are distinguished by arched entrances which are predominantly of masonry construction but a few later additions are metal. Additionally, around 20% have entrances under adjoining buildings.

Mews are traditionally surfaced with hard wearing granite stone setts, or ‘cobbles’ as we know them, that have worn smooth with use. They either fall to a central gully for drainage or are cambered and have gullies at the sides of the street, known as runnels.

The narrowness of the Mews often contrasts with the wide roads that surround them. Mews roads originally serviced the main properties they were connected to. The Mews are generally not accessed directly from the principal roads but from secondary roads or through gaps between buildings. These spaces now offer or lead to parking and privacy for residents.

Some Mews Characteristics

Chester Close – Late 20th Century modern metal Arch
Chester Close
Eaton Mews – An example of a masonry mid-19th century classic Arch
Eaton Mews

MEWS – ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM

Mews are not laid out to a single pattern as they had to be built to accommodate the available space, so are shaped in accordance with the landownership restrictions in the area. Whilst the majority are cul-de-sacs or through roads many are asymmetrical courtyards or essentially amorphous and do not align with the main buildings they were built behind.

Last but not least, it must be noted that in terms of their tenure, the Mews are predominantly owned freehold compared with flats and maisonettes that are still – despite the availability or enfranchisement legislation – predominantly leasehold.

Mews Layouts

This article was written by Martyn John Brown MRICS, MCIOB, MNAEA, MARLA, MISVA of Everchanging Mews – www.everchangingmews.com who is a specialist Mews Consultant.

Everchanging Mews is owned and run by Martyn John Brown MRICS, MCIOB, MNAEA, MARLA, MISVA who provides professional advice in respect of Mews development and refurbishment projects as well as professional surveying advice – For any appraisal or advice on Mews Projects and Surveys, Valuations and Party Wall matters contact: info@everchangingmews.com or call Martyn on 0207 419 5033.

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  • Get in touch

    Everchangingmews Ltd. 27 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AX

    Director: Martyn John Brown - MRICS MCIOB MNAEA MARLA MISVA

    info@everchangingmews.com

    Tel: 0207 419 5025

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